As civil servants, you play a vital part in government and our national life. As ministers, we rely on you to advise us on a huge range of issues. But for many people, the face of government isn’t a minister’s. It’s the welcoming, professional smile of a relatively junior official in a government office or a helpful voice on the telephone.
So the first thing I want to say is: thank you. The last five years brought new problems and tough decisions as we tried to provide the best possible service with the precious resources available. I greatly appreciate your dedication and hard work. Now we’re starting a new term of government, I want to say directly to every civil servant what ministers value about your work and what your priorities should be.
Above all, we value honesty and integrity, which we must never take for granted. This strikes me when I visit countries who don’t have a long-established tradition of honest public service. We do. We’re proud of it. And we must never lose it. It’s a cornerstone of any fair society.
We also want humanity. By that I mean a sympathetic understanding of the problems confronting the people we’re all here to serve. That understanding helps us to provide humane, professional services and to answer the public’s questions properly. It also helps us to develop policies. Creating policy that works in practice requires us to step into the shoes of those whom the policy will affect.
But honesty, integrity and humanity need to be accompanied by effective communication. All our communications with the public should be human, clear, simple, helpful and professional. This means explaining complexity in everyday terms and translating jargon into simple English. If we can’t do that, we won’t communicate.
Ministers need clarity too. We’re surrounded by complex issues on which we must make important decisions. Civil servants may know them inside out, but ministers can’t know everything in detail. So we rely on you to cut through the complexity and cut out the jargon. Please be brief and use straightforward language. Ministers depend on your impartial, objective advice. We don’t want that advice wrapped up. If there’s bad news, we need to hear it. If there’s a problem, tell us clearly. But please try also to find a way round the problem and tell us that clearly too.
So I’m asking every department and agency to concentrate on making all their communications brief, simple, human and jargon-free. I want to see these qualities in everything government writes. I look to senior civil servants to set a personal example of this.
I am introducing a new award for clarity as part of the annual Civil Service Awards. I want clarity to be recognised, rewarded and publicised as an example for us all to follow. This year’s 10th Anniversary Awards at Buckingham Palace are the perfect opportunity to give formal recognition to a civil servant who has demonstrated excellence on this issue. I would strongly encourage you all to submit a nomination for this category or for one of the other 15 awards, and you can do so here.
Our job, as ministers and civil servants, is to maintain a system that provides what people want – a GP appointment when they want one, a good local school for their children, an easier commute. This matters to you and to me because we want the same thing: to provide the very best public service we can. Strong communication is central to this. It will enable all of us across government to explain things clearly, to understand what’s needed, to do the right thing in the best way, and to concentrate on what really matters. I know you’ll play your part in making this happen.